The Victorian Government must keep protecting our most vulnerable

June 6, 2022

A program that has cared for tens of thousands of vulnerable Victorians since the pandemic began is being cut while COVID-19 runs rampant alongside a growing flu outbreak.

The Victorian Healthcare Association is urging the Victorian Government to reconsider its decision to end the High Risk Accommodation Response program (HRAR) next month when the state’s ambulance and hospital system will be hit with extreme demand.

Since 2020, 24 community health services have been delivering specialist health and social care to people living in accommodation with a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission, such as public housing towers, rooming houses, supported residential services, disability services and caravan parks.

While the service includes COVID-19 and flu vaccination, testing, and support for people isolating and sick with COVID-19, it has also been attending to many other health and social problems to help residents prevent sickness, stay well, and improve their health. This includes connecting people to health services to manage chronic diseases and mental health issues, so they don’t escalate and require ambulance and hospital treatment.

‘If there were silver linings to the pandemic, this program was one of them. It has been providing much-needed assistance to people who face many barriers to health care including cost, mobility and transport difficulties, and language and cultural barriers,’ said VHA CEO Tom Symondson.

‘If we measure a society by how it looks after its most vulnerable, this program should not be ending in the middle of winter when COVID-19 is affecting more Victorians than ever before.

This is not the right time to cut a program that helps people stay well and out of our stretched hospital system.’

The Victorian Government’s decision to cut the program in the 2022-23 Budget will cause hundreds of job losses among health and community outreach workers who have built up trusted relationships with the people they’ve been caring for.

‘This program was created after the much-criticised public housing lockdowns of July 2020. That taught us we need appropriately trained local health and outreach workers to assist people in high-risk accommodation during a crisis. It will be very difficult to re-establish this workforce once the program is cut next month,’ said Mr Symondson.

The VHA was commissioned by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing to evaluate the HRAR program. Our evaluation found that during 2020 and 2021, HRAR providers supported more than 1,714 high-risk settings and 16,166 dwellings from the inner city of Melbourne to Gippsland, the Wimmera, and beyond. In each part of the state, the program was tailored to the local residential landscape and resident needs – and saw locals looking after locals.

 

Media contact: Julia Medew is on 0402 011 438 or Julia.medew@vha.org.au